For the second consecutive year, Meat&Poultry solicited industry to submit Rising Stars nominations – and industry didn’t disappoint. This year’s eight finalists are extraordinary employees who are on course to become future industry leaders.

Family history
Melissa Bonorden traces her Hormel roots back two generations

Long before Melissa Bonorden started working at Hormel Foods, she had a connection with the company. Her grandfather worked at the company’s Austin, Minn., plant after serving in World War II. Born and raised in Austin, she recalls eating Hormel chili, Dinty Moore beef stew and Hormel Cure 81 ham as a child.

Nine years ago, after receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Univ. of Minnesota, Bonorden found herself back in Austin, working where her grandfather had worked more than 60 years earlier. Today, she holds the title of senior scientist of new product development at the Hormel Foods R&D department.

“Working in the meat and poultry industry presents the opportunity to impact foods that are an important part of our diets,” Bonorden says.

The first rung on Bonorden’s Hormel career ladder was with The Hormel Institute – a research arm of the Univ. of Minnesota that was founded by Jay C. Hormel in 1942. Her undergraduate degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in health and wellness, followed by her master’s degree in nutrition, made Bonorden well suited for working at the Hormel Institute. She was hired at the institute in May 2003 as a junior scientist in the nutrition and metabolism section. In June 2007, she was promoted to assistant scientist working in both the nutrition and metabolism and cancer biology sections. One year later, Bonorden transferred from the Hormel Institute to Hormel Foods after she accepted the position of scientist in applied research.

“This move allowed me to translate my background in nutrition research into designing and formulating food products,” she said. “This was an exciting opportunity for me to be part of the team representing the Hormel Foods portfolio of products.”
Career accomplishments

Bonorden has worked on a variety of R&D projects during her Hormel tenure but described her work on Hormel’s Project Spammy as the most rewarding. Spammy, a shelf-stable, poultry-based spread fortified with vitamins and minerals, was designed to address nutritional deficiencies in Central America. Hormel Foods has donated more than 1 million cans of Spammy shelf-stable poultry spread to Guatemala since the inception of the project in 2008.

“The best part of working in the meat and poultry industry is the speed at which solutions are generated when an issue arises,” she continued. “I am constantly impressed by the dedication of those working in the industry to respond quickly with creative solutions.”

According to Bonorden, the biggest challenge of working in the meat industry involves educating consumers, especially when it comes to explaining the benefits of animal protein, she says. “Consumers are constantly bombarded by conflicting messages, and when the latest report contradicts earlier research, there is more confusion.

“Taking a more proactive approach about communicating the health benefits in meat and poultry products is a goal of mine and of Hormel’s.”

Looking to the future, Bonorden intends to continue her work as senior scientist of new product development. “While it is impossible to predict the future, I know that the team we have in place at Hormel Foods will be able to respond to whatever comes our way,” she concludes.